Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progressive Grassroots

So, the Right has the money, and the Left has the People Power. We all know that's how the game is stacked. And ever since that whole shake-up in the 60s, when both sides got their boats rocked, the Right's been building this big machine and throwing money into it. Turns out they're pretty good at it! And the Left? We've been out knockin' doors, talkin' to the People, givin' them the Power--that's how we do. That's how the story goes.

And that's why this little book released last month is a big deal. In Activism, Inc., Dana Fisher of Columbia University traces the history of the canvass--from a vital grassroots GOTV tool of local politicians, to an innovative tactic for burgeoning advocacy/lobbying groups in the 70s, to the big-box fundraising industry that sprawled out through the 90s and continues to grow today. Fisher's book is billed as the first formal study of the modern fundraising canvass ever published. (She recently published a piece in the American Prospect that more or less summarizes her argument.)

Mike Connery interviewed Fisher over at Future Majority last week about the canvasses described in her book. "This is not what democracy looks like, and it is not what progressive politics should look like either," he wrote in a post accompanying the podcast. But how can door-knocking to drum up People Power look like anything other than democracy?

Well, Fisher's book starts from the fact much of the progressive canvass world has been consolidated under one roof -- acronymically speaking, that would be FFPIRG/GCI -- the Fund for Public Interest Research and its network, including most of the PIRGs, Telefund, and Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI), a conglomerate that altogether is the single largest employer of "progressive activists" in the country.* (I wrote about Fund/PIRG/GCI's shared campaign model here in the "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series.) Fisher then takes the time to do what no one has bothered to do in decades: ask these canvassers about their work. Fisher's conclusion is announced rather boldly right there in the book's subtitle:

How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America

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Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns Inc! DCCC drops GCI?

Let's speak frankly. It was only a matter of time before the right-wing blogs caught wind of Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated's workplace improprieties, its labor abuses in the name of the Democratic Party, and used them as ammo against the Left.

Yes, what Kate described in her post yesterday is awful; sadly, experiences of this type are not the exception, but the rule, as all of us vets well know. However, my curiosity was aroused not so much by the mistreatment she catalogued, but the fact that it seems some of the GCIers are actually standing up to this corrupt system.  It left me wanting to know more about what's going on up there in Madison, Wisconsin.

Outsourced Democratic canvassers--protesting their employer?
Because they're not getting paid minimum wage?

This is gonna get ugly.

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Still strip-mining the grassroots

I've been following Greg Bloom's "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series very closely, and for a while I'd been meaning to post my own experience with Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated. I've finally been motivated to do so by a very unpleasant irony: I found this Powerline blog post on Labor Day:

the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has hired Boston's Grassroots Campaigns to solicit money for the DCCC by promoting, among other things, the need to raise the minimum wage. One problem: Grassroots doesn't pay the canvassers who campaign for minimum wage increases the current minimum wage.

Powerline is referring to this article in the Isthmus, which describes a few GCI canvassers (who are working for the DCCC) who are protesting their awful pay rates.

How very familiar... if anything, I'm surprised it took this long for GCI's dealings to blow up in the Democrats' faces.

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CT-Sen: My last pre-primary report from the ground

bumped - Matt

(cross-posted at Deny My Freedom and Daily Kos)


When all else fails, break the law

It's a mere 2 days until the primary in Connecticut. Once again, I trekked up to the Norwalk offce to do volunteer work for Ned Lamont's Senate campaign. There was plenty to do today - we were getting ready to canvass in the surrounding area in Norwalk, as well as other nearby areas in Connecticut. In addition, there was a bonus today - Representative Maxine Waters was going to be stopping by the local fair to help get out the word about Ned. All in all, it was another crowded day in the office, with even more volunteers showing up to help get out the word about the people's candidate in this race. However, as the above image shows, the Lieberman campaign is now skirting a very fine line when it comes to their efforts. Follow me under the fold for the rest of my very interesting day...

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CT-Sen: Hitting the streets, with a side of phonebanking

(cross-posted at Deny My Freedom and Daily Kos)

After two weekends of canvassing in Stamford for Ned Lamont, I hit the pavement once again...in Stamford. It's probably not such a bad idea that we've been going to Stamford often, considering that it is Joe Lieberman's hometown. People-powered politics is about spreading the word, even if it's to the opponent's backyard. As you can see, though, it's in a markedly different location than where I canvassed last weekend. Instead of being in an upper-class neighborhood, today was about going into a neighborhood that was lower-class. Also different from last week was the demographics - whereas almost everyone I spoke to last week was Caucasian, this area of Stamford is ethnically diverse, largely dominated by ethnic African-Americans (many had French names) and Latinos. In my opinion, the area that we covered today will probably have some of the lowest turnout in the state. After that, with some extra time to spare, I did some phonebanking, where the response was more frequent - and quite a bit more positive - than the canvassing experience today. Follow me under the fold for the full story...

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